Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York


list of authors
Quita Mould
Ian Carlisle
Esther Cameron
list of contributors
C. van Driel-Murray
J. A. Goodall
G. Fellows-Jensen
R. Finlayson
A. Hall
R. A. Hall
H. K. Kenward
L. Liddy
A. Mainman
C. A. Morris
T. P. O'Connor
P. J. Ottaway
N. F. Pearson
J. A. Spriggs
P. Walton Rogers
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
The Small Finds [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 25 August 2023
This volume, the collaborative work of a number of authors, presents the surviving evidence for the manufacture and the use of leather artefacts at York during the Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval periods. It is based around the internationally important group of Anglo-Scandinavian leatherwork from 16– 22 Coppergate, along with a smaller amount of medieval material recovered from the site, supplemented by groups recovered from the Coppergate watching brief, excavations at 22 Piccadilly, and at the site of the Foundry and College of Vicars Choral at Bedern. Over 5,000 items of leather dating from the later 9th century through to the 15th century are represented, some 550 of which have been fully catalogued in this fascicule. The close dating of the deposits belonging to the earlier years of occupation at Coppergate makes the 9th- to 11th-century material of particular significance.

A summary of the excavations that produced the leather described in detail in this volume is provided, followed by a description of the nature of the individual leather-bearing deposits which attempts to identify possible workshop waste. The evidence for leatherworking being undertaken at Coppergate in tenements B and C during the mid 10th–mid 11th century is considered. A report on the conservation of the leatherwork and the changes in conservation techniques over time is provided. The surviving evidence for leatherworking in the city during the Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval periods is summarised, including that from historical documents and from York street names. Leatherworking tools including currier’s knives, slickers, creasers and awls have been found, as well as a wooden shoe-maker’s last. The environmental evidence for tanning and leatherworking in York is considered and an attempt is made to correlate the animal bone evidence with the leather recovered.

Waste leather from both the processing of hides and the manufacture of items, particularly shoes, was found. Discarded unusable parts of animal hides, including a rare occurrence of a fragment of untanned hide apparently preserved by Stockholm tar, are suggestive of the initial processing of hides. Flesh shavings from paring down the thickness of hides during the currying process were recognised at Coppergate, as well as trimmings from the cutting out and shaping of pattern pieces during shoe manufacture. Shoe parts frequently showed signs of repair and shoes apparently made from the recycled parts of others (translated shoes) were recognised, both indicating the activities of cobblers. Shoe-making activity was at its height in the 10th century; cobbling was also being undertaken at this time and continued throughout the medieval period. There is evidence for the refurbishment of knife sheaths in the Anglo-Scandinavian period, a phenomenon not previously recognised elsewhere.

While a general outline of the methods of shoemaking and sheath and scabbard making and the decorative techniques employed is given, the leather items themselves are described in more detail. These include shoes, knife sheaths, sword scabbards, straps, purses, elliptical panels, balls, an archer’s wrist guard and a range of miscellaneous items. Woollen and linen thread preserved within stitch holes has been identified and there was a single occurrence of cinnabar used to colour a leather strap.

Shoes represent the largest category of manufactured leather to be recovered. A small number of shoes made from a single piece of leather were found in Anglo-Scandinavian deposits, but the vast majority of the shoes from both Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval contexts were of turnshoe construction. The correlation between shoe styles and sizes was studied and examples of abnormalities of the foot as seen in the footwear are described. An important corpus of knife and seax sheaths and sword scabbards was also recovered and several kinds of sheaths typical of the Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval periods were identified. To allow the important Anglo- Scandinavian shoe and sheath assemblages to be seen in context the Anglo-Saxon background and contemporary material from elsewhere in the British Isles is summarised. The possibility that the differences in technology exhibited in the Anglo-Scandinavian footwear, sheaths and scabbards might reflect the cultural mix in the population at the time is explored. Finally, the similarities between the York leather and leather assemblages recovered throughout northwest Europe from both the Anglo-Scandinavian and the medieval period are noted.
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York Archaeological Trust
CC BY 4.0
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